It may be a balmy, golden autumn, but in Alberta you never know when the weather is going to turn. One week you’re raking leaves and the next you’re shovelling snow. Get your vehicle ready for winter now to avoid getting caught out in the cold – literally. Here is your to-do list for the next two months.
Check oil. Oil cleans grit from your engine that would otherwise shorten its life. “Many vehicles require an oil change at the 5,000- or 6,000-kilometre mark,” says Randy Loyk, technical services manager with AMA Automotive Services, “but it’s all over the map.” Your owner’s manual will tell you when it’s time.
Top up coolant. Coolant stops a running engine from overheating and, in the cold, from freezing up. Manufacturers’ guidelines vary widely, so check your manual, check your levels and top up if necessary.
Test lights. As part of regular maintenance, most shops will check headlights, brake lights, driving lights, fog lights and high beams. Since lights are critical in the dark of winter, check them yourself regularly, too. Fix a broken one before its counterpart on the other side gives out.
Fix nicks and chips. “Cold weather makes a vehicle’s body rigid, causing glass to flex,” says Loyk. Temperature fluctuations from repeatedly defrosting an icy windshield and entering a heated garage can cause glass to expand and contract, exacerbating chips and cracks. Fix them while they’re small.
Change to winter tires. “Especially for rural driving, we recommend winter tires,” Loyk says. If you opt for the added safety that winter tires bring, put them on before the snow starts to fall.
Check tire alignment and air pressure. Look for a sticker, usually on the driver’s side door jamb, to find your vehicle’s recommended tire air pressure. Check the pressure in your tires often – it drops with the temperature. Align the wheels when you change tires, or if you notice uneven wear.
Switch wiper blades. Start the winter season with fresh wipers, opting for winter blades (keep them in top form by scraping your windshield regularly). Drain your wiper fluid reservoir and fill it with the cold-weather variety.
Test battery. Batteries have a three- to five-year lifespan. Most maintenance packages include a battery test, and some instant lube shops also offer them, Loyk says. If you need to buy a new battery this autumn, look for one with a high cold-cranking amp (CCA) rating. This refers to the number of amps your battery supplies the engine for 30 seconds at –18 C before voltage decreases.
Start plugging in. Check your block heater and pull your heater cord out. “Start plugging it in at –15 C,” says Loyk. Even if your car starts reliably at any temperature, you’re accelerating wear on the engine if you don’t plug in.
Pack an emergency road kit. Whether purchased whole-hog or assembled at home, your kit should contain a shovel, candles, a flashlight, fresh batteries, top-quality booster cables, grip gloves, a multi-tool, reflective pylons, a toque and a blanket.